Alexander Aitken

Alexander Aitken

Alexander Craig Aitken, FRS FRSE FRSL (1 April 18953 November 1967) was one of New Zealand's greatest mathematicians. He studied for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, where his dissertation, "Smoothing of Data", was considered so impressive that he was awarded a DSc in 1926, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh beforehand in 1925. Aitken took a position at Edinburgh in 1925. He was elected to the Royal Society of London in 1936 for his work in statistics, algebra and numerical analysis.

Aitken was one of the best mental calculators known, and had a prodigious memory. He knew the first 1000 digits of pi, the 96 recurring digits of 1/97, and memorised the "Aeneid" in high school (Otago Boys High School, Dunedin, New Zealand). Unfortunately, his inability to forget the horrors he witnessed in World War I led to recurrent depression throughout his life.

He was an accomplished writer, being elected to the Royal Society of Literature in 1964 in response to the publication of his war memoirs. He was also an excellent musician, being described by Eric Fenby as the most accomplished amateur musician he had ever known, and was a champion athlete in his younger days.

Through his collaboration with Herbert W. Turnbull on a book on canonical matrices (published in 1932), Aitken acquired an Erdős number of 6.

An annual "Aitken Prize" is awarded by the New Zealand Mathematical Society for the best student talk at their colloquium. The prize was inaugurated in 1995 at the University of Otago's Aitken Centenary Conference, a joint mathematics and statistics conference held to remember Aitken a hundred years after his birth.

Notable publications

*A. C. Aitken (1935). "On Least Squares and Linear Combinations of Observations", "Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh", 55, 42-48.
*A. C. Aitken and H. Silverstone (1942). "On the Estimation of Statistical Parameters", "Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh", 1942, 61, 186-194.
*A. C. Aitken (1963). "Gallipoli to the Somme: Recollections of a New Zealand infantryman". Oxford.

See also

* Aitken's delta-squared process


*I. M. L. Hunter, An exceptional talent for calculative thinking, "British Journal of Psychology" 53 (3) (1962), 243-258.
* [ New Zealand Mathematical Society Newsletter, Number 63, April 1995 (Centerfold)]
*MacTutor History of Mathematics archive, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews
** [ Aitken biography]
** [ Memory, mental arithmetic and mathematics]
* [ NZ Heroes page on Aitken]
* [ A.C. Aitken (1895 -- 1967)] , P.C. Fenton, Gazette of the Australian Mathematical Society, March 1995
* [ A.C. Aitken, 1895-1967: A Distinguished New Zealand Mathematician] , David Giles, Economics Department, University of Victoria, Canada
* [ "Times" obituary]
* ['EC/1936/01'&dsqDb=Catalog Royal Society citation]
* [ Aitken prize]
* [ Transcript of 1954 radio interview with Aitken and another mental calculator]

External links

For Aitken's PhD students see MathGenealogy|id=18577

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